Shadow lobbying: the U.S. case and a reflection on Italy

The United States has always been considered a textbook case in terms of lobbying and regulating interest representation activities. Since 1946, the U.S. has had legislation on lobbying, most recently the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) in 2007.


In 2017, Herschel F. Thomas and Timothy M. LaPira published an article entitled “How many lobbyists are in Washington? Shadow lobbying and the gray market for policy advocacy” in which they observe and describe a phenomenon called “shadow lobbying.” Shadow lobbying refers to those who carry out advocacy, lobbying, and interest representation with the aim of influencing the creation of public policies without being registered as a lobbyist.


“Shadow lobbying” has been called the “Daschle Loophole” because of Tom Daschle, a former senator from South Dakota, who left the US Senate in 2005 and began his career as a lobbyist and political consultant. He worked ‘in the shadows’ with those who had been his colleagues in Congress and managed to earn over $2 million a year without registering as a lobbyist.


Shadow lobbying does not only include ex-government members who “recycle” themselves as lobbyists after their time in Congress. There are many lobbyists who have government experience, as well as lawyers, journalists, and CEOs. Shadow lobbying has grown in size while the number of registered lobbyists decreased by an average of 3% per year between 2008 and 2015. This does not imply that stakeholders have decreased; they simply are off the radar. According to some estimates, there are at least as many non-registered lobbyists as registered.


A phenomenon often linked to shadow lobbying is nicknamed ‘revolving doors’ which describes the movement of individuals from governmental or parliamentary positions towards positions in the private sector, almost always in the role of lobbyists or senior managers. This movement also works in the opposite direction, from private to public. This phenomenon can be found in practically every free and democratic country in the world. Why do revolving doors keep turning (even in the U.S. where there is lobbying legislation)?


The private individual believes that the contacts and knowledge brought from his old public occupation can be successful, facilitating the ability to influence politics, making the representation of interests easier, and increasing the probability of success.


About 25 years have passed since the U.S. updated the legislation on lobbying. Learning from the U.S. case, Italy should first clarify what lobbying is, given that the representation of interests can materialize in various ways. Then it should clearly identify the objectives that the law aims to achieve and verify the benefits for the community (citizens, politics and companies). As the U.S. case teaches, the presence of a law and a register are not synonymous with transparency and